COLUMBUS, Ohio - On any given day, more than 16,000 children are in the foster care system in Ohio. And during Foster Care Month in May, the thousands of Ohioans who open their hearts and homes to kids in crisis are being celebrated.
As a foster parent in Montgomery County, Michelle Tedford said it takes dedication, patience and lots of love to provide safety and stability for a child whose world is in disarray.
"You also get to share some really exciting things with them, like learning to climb a tree or discovering what their favorite food is," Tedford said. "Some of these kids have had very limited opportunities in the past and you get to open up the world for them and let them explore and figure out what it is that they love and that they want to do with their lives."
In Ohio, there are about 7,200 licensed foster homes. State data shows a 23 percent increase in the number of children coming into foster care since 2013, which is nearly 3,000 more children.
Ginny Hegwood is a foster parent in New Carlisle. She said besides helping a child adjust to their new circumstances, foster parents also must respect the role of the child's family. She said she still has a relationship with the father of a foster child who wanted some mentoring.
"Even though she's been back with him for several months now, he'll still call periodically or I'll pick her up periodically," Hegwood said. "And so he doesn't feel like he's been left out in the cold, because these kids change when they're in placement."
She added that while fostering is a rewarding experience, it also has unique challenges.
"I can't tell you how many times I've just cried my eyes out, asking God why he wants me to do this," Hegwood said. "There definitely needs to be some sensitivity to the fact that when you're raising somebody else's children, you're going to have challenges that people don't understand."
Fostering situations can end in family reunification, adoption by a foster family, or adoption by a relative. Whatever the outcome, Tedford said a safe, permanent home should be found as quickly as possible.
"They are so aware of their precarious situation and that at any moment they could be moved again and their whole world could be shifted," she said. "And the sooner that we can get them into permanency, the sooner that they can just relax, and then continue to heal, and then continue to grow as individuals."
Recently, an Ohio Department of Job and Family Services advisory group submitted recommendations to the Legislature on how to improve foster parent recruitment and retention in Ohio. Anyone interested in learning more about fostering can contact their county children's services agency.